12/6/2013 — The final labor report to be released in 2013 had promising aspects but capped a year that many employers—even in expanding sectors—are happy to leave behind.
The nation’s employers added a net 203,000 positions in November, the Labor Department said Friday, and the jobless rate fell to 7.0% from 7.3%. Over the previous 12 months, the U.S. has added an average 195,000 jobs a month. November’s gains covered a range of sectors, with notable numbers in manufacturing and construction as well as transportation and warehousing.
For Tennant Truck Lines, the brisk job creation is a mixed blessing, said Aaron Tennant, chief executive of the Colona, Ill., company.
While more jobs are “great for the nation,” Mr. Tennant said, it also stirs more turnover in his company’s work force. When opportunities arise in manufacturing and warehousing, he said, Mr. Tennant loses drivers who prefer work that doesn’t keep them away from their families and out on the road for long stretches.
Mr. Tennant, which has a work force of more than 200, filled 12 positions since March. In 2014, the company aims to add about 25 more—and at the same time revamp its driver recruitment and retainment efforts, Mr. Tennant said. While 2012 was “a good year,” 2013 has been flat. “That’s not bad but as a businessman, I like to see growth,” Mr. Tennant said. “But flat isn’t terrible. We’re not going the wrong way.” He expects 2014 to be flat or slightly up.
Similar caution prevails at Florida-based forestry company, M.A. Rigoni, where Richard Schwab has no immediate plans to take on more workers or invest in new equipment.
“We’re not hiring anybody, we’re just maintaining what we have,” said Mr. Schwab, who is the company’s manager of procurement and new-business development. “I would say there’s a lot of pessimism out there.” About 40 people work indirectly for M.A. Rigoni through subcontractors, he said, and he is loath to expand the firm’s roster of about 36 full-time employees. “We’re still seeing that financing is tough, business capital is tough to get and dealing with banks is very tough for us,” he said.
However, 2013 ushered in a new market for M.A. Rigoni, lifting the firm’s fortunes. “For the past two quarters, we’ve been more profitable than we have in a long time,” Mr. Schwab said. “Our margins have gone up from 3% to 4%…maybe to 5% to 6%, on a volume basis.” He credits that growth not to a stronger housing market but rather to supplying waste wood to a biomass plant that opened this year in the Gainesville area.
Strength in construction jobs is stirring business at Cleveland steel distributor, Flack Steel Ltd. “If you look at the demand picture for what we sell in this country, it has improved,” President Jeremy Flack said. The improvement hasn’t been dramatic, he added, “but it’s a lot more solid picture than we’ve seen in years.”
Businesses don’t appear to be “as fear-based as we were a couple of years ago,” Mr. Flack said. He cautioned that there is “no explosive growth,” but that things are “incrementally better.”
Residential and commercial building has improved, although government projects, such as highway construction, aren’t back yet, he said.
“We’re hearing about growth plans from our customers that are pretty aggressive,” he said. Flack Steel also grew this year, through a recentmerger with GlobeNet Metals LLC. The deal, which was completed just a few weeks ago, was fostered by access to relatively inexpensive funding. “The capital is just flowing like crazy,” Mr. Flack said. “When you’re looking at the overall picture…having cheap access to capital is a big deal for American business.”
The next jobs report—for December 2013—is slated for release on Friday, Jan. 10, 2014.